About 25-30% of people in the U.S. are colonized with Staphylococcus Aureus bacteria, commonly known as staph. Colonized people have the bacteria present on their skin or in the nose, but the microbes do not cause an infection. Staph bacteria are among the most common causes of skin infections, such as impetigo or boils (Box 1). Those infections are easily treated with antibiotics, either topical or oral, depending on the severity of the infection.
MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) is a type of staph bacteria that are resistant to beta lactam antibiotics, such as methicillin, penicillin, and amoxicillin. While 25-30% of the population is colonized with staph, approximately 1% is colonized with MRSA (CDC, 2007).
According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2007), staph bacteria are the most common causes of skin infections, and are a common cause of pneumonia, surgical wound infections, and bloodstream infections (Box 2). The majority of infections caused by MRSA occur in the hospitals or other healthcare settings. However, in recent years, we have been seeing an increase in MRSA infections in the community.
The CDC investigated clusters of the community acquired MRSA (CA-MRSA) and identified the following factors associated with the spread of MRSA:
1.Close skin-to-skin contact
2.Cuts and scrapes
3.Contact with contaminated items & surfaces
4.Crowded living conditions
You can protect yourself and your family from catching a MRSA infection by practicing good hygiene (CDC, 2007):
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1.Wash hands with soap & water
2.Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer
3.Keep cuts & scrapes clean and covered until completely healed
4.Avoid contact with other people’s wounds and bandages
5.Do not share personal items, such as towels, razors, and clothes
When you spot a pimple (or a small cluster of pimples) that progressively gets worse, i.e. you might see more redness, swelling, pus, or you develop a fever and pimples start to spread, you should see your health care provider as soon as possible. If there is drainage present at the time of the visit, your health care provider will culture it to determine what bacteria causes the infection, and you will be treated with an antibiotic. Always remember that it may take 1-3 days for the antibiotic to start working, so do not get concerned if you see no improvement in 1-2 days. However, if you are getting worse at any point, or there is no improvement after 3 days of treatment, you must return to your health care provider for reevaluation.
Culture results are accompanied by sensitivity testing. That means that after identifying bacteria that causes the infection, lab techs check which antibiotics will be effective against that microbe. Your health care provider will assess your treatment after receiving the results from the lab and if your antibiotic needs to be changed, he or she will contact you.
Although MRSA is resistant to many antibiotics, there are still some antibiotics that are effective against this bacterium. In addition to oral antibiotics, your heath care provider may suggest a special body wash to decrease the bacterial count on the skin.
Once a staph infection is cleared, it may return. Always follow your health care provider’s directions while undergoing treatment, and take prevention steps after the infection is gone.
Signs & Symptoms of Staph Infection
Impetigo- superficial skin infection with honey-colored crust sometimes blisters
Boils- pussy infection of hair follicles
Abscess- collection of pus under skin: red, hot to touch, swollen, tender
Carbuncles- infection larger than abscess, usually with several openings in the skin
Cellulitis- infection of soft tissue that usually start as a pimple or bug bite: hot to touch, red, swollen, tender
Sty- infection of eyelids
Signs & Symptoms of Severe MRSA Infection***
Low blood pressure
Shortness of breath
Rash over most of the body
*** If any of these symptoms are present, you must seek medical care immediately.
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